I am a bigot.

A professor once told me the first, and the most important, step in eradicating racism, sexism, gender role oppression etc…is to first acknowledge it in yourself and constantly work on it. Whether it’s you acting or thinking in a discriminatory manner towards others, or yourself, we all have prejudices somewhere within us. How can we not? Our histories and lives are filled with all types of prejudice; even saints or respected figures had them ie Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK, Nelson Mandela etc…Mandela himself owned up to that.

So I’m always uncomfortable around self-righteous types who point the finger a lot but never look at themselves. When people judge too much, I wonder what they are repressing and thus projecting. I don’t trust them. I think most don’t, hence we roll our eyes at “do-gooders” sometimes. Many don’t feel they’re coming from an authentic place because they are not – they are annoyingly, hypocritically “holier than thou” acting out roles rather than being themselves, and coming from an honest, inspired, heart-filled place. The ones who are legit, however, like Mandela – we feel inspired by.

I get it because I was once like that myself – not just with societal issues but personally – until I realized I was so motivated by fear and sometimes societal definitions of “good”, “acceptable” “perfect”, I wasn’t really growing or self-actualizing as a person. I felt so trapped. And like a disgusting hypocrite, I was afraid others would find out the darker side of me, the side that believed more in certain prejudices or was weaker than I would outwardly convey.

Honestly, because I was like that, I thought everybody was too – politically correct, perfect beings on the outside, but not so much on the inside. I felt pretty bitter, guilty, and inferior – a huge fraud. But to admit this would make me look bad, so I tried to pretend these things weren’t there. I was so ashamed, but I had no way to communicate or deal with it, so I projected it outwards and got even angrier and judgmental of others. And I most likely alienated and turned off more people.

Now I’m more self-aware and comfortable in my own skin, I’m not like that anymore, or at least am not most of the time. And I’ve noticed now in my own life – and others experiences – that people tend to listen to and respect those who have the courage to own up to their intolerance than those who are always angry and fail to look in a mirror. Judgment, labels, self-righteousness, the words “You are so this and this”, “People, or this group, are sheep, lazy, complacent, dumb, ignorant, self-absorbed” doesn’t really do a whole lot when trying to resolve issues. It just creates shame and guilt, and as anybody with an understanding of psychology knows, those are the exact emotions people do anything to avoid – and thus will avoid anything that triggers it off, whether through avoidance or anger.

A lot of people are generally loving and caring, willing to listen, learn, grow, and change when you communicate to them from a down to earth, humble, understanding, problem-solving way/approach. Or at least that is my experience and observations. It’s just all about honest communication and self-awareness.

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To End Violence Against Women, End Violence Against Boys

A piece I wrote published in UC Berkeley’s The Chronicle of Social Change:

In her quest to achieve some semblance of justice in the world and in her own life, abuse survivor Rachael Kay Albers angrily sought refuge in feminism.

Until one day, she noticed an irony: In her aggressive approach to fighting for a more humane world, she was becoming like her abuser.

“I was becoming an angry, militant activist, simply participating in and replicating the greater cycle of violence,” Kay Albers said. “As I began to recognize some of my own abuser’s characteristics in myself, he turned from abuser to human. I started looking at these issues from a place of empathy and compassion.”

Like many social problems, gender-based violence stems from myriad root causes. From child abuse to cultures of violence, the intersections highlight how the common ‘oppressor versus oppressed’ narrative fails to paint the full picture.

Research conducted in 2010 by the International Center for Research on Women [ICRW] illustrates this complexity, demonstrating that a significant number of men who abuse their partners were themselves abused as children. The reverse is also true, by the way: most abuse victims do not go on to be abusers.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) referenced the study when she introduced H.R. 1340 – the International Violence Against Women Act – on March 6, 2015. Unlike its failed predecessor in 2010, it emphasizes engaging and helping boys and men.

“The fates of the two genders are intertwined; for women to thrive, men and boys must be part of the gender equality agenda,” said Gary Barker, co-founder of MenEngage, in a column for New America.

Often in global conversations, abuse is oversimplified into an us-versus-them issue. But as the ICRW study illustrates, such a depiction doesn’t accurately capture the whole story. By dichotomizing one party as good and the other as bad – male or female – it can prevent further exploration into the deeper roots of gender issues that could help make the world more humane for all.

The ICRW study notes men who abused their partners were often abused as children, it doesn’t take into account women are more likely to be child abusers. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2013 Child Maltreatment Report published in January 2015, 53.9 percent of perpetrators were women while 45 percent were men.

Perhaps, then, the “solution” here is to simply accept there isn’t just one. Social problems are too grey for black and white diagnoses and solutions – the humans they involve, too vast for victim and villain.

Or as Kay Albers succinctly puts it: “We’ve all been socialized into accepting violence as normal. [We need] open spaces to have these conversations. Be open to dialogue…to learn and to self-reflect.”

https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/opinion/to-end-violence-against-women-end-violence-against-boys/10104

Letter to a Stranger: Published in The Elephant Journal

EJ Dear Stranger 500x500

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/02/letter-to-a-stranger/

Dear Stranger,

I don’t care about you—I care about You.

I don’t care about the small you that you think you are, that volatile sense of self the world has fed you, where you’re riding high on greatness one day and in the dumps the next, feeling abandoned by all. Your friends, like the 15 minutes of fame, adoration, societal approval, gone the next moment when the feelings fade, and something better walks along.

I don’t care who you are in relation to everybody else—the status you may hold, the money you may have, your looks, the influence, or even whether or you’re considered a “good” or “bad” person. I don’t care if you’ve gone to jail or if you’ve just won the Nobel Peace Prize. I don’t care about what the world thinks of your potential, or lack thereof. I don’t care how far along or behind you are on the rat race, how together you seem.

I care about You, the you with a capital “y,” and who you are now as you journey through the paths that life bring at whatever pace you may need.

I like you for who you are now, not what you can be—although I know that you are capable of so much. I care about your heart, that fragile beautiful diamond whose value has not always been recognized in this cold, shut down world with all its messed up priorities and ways.

I care about that heart pain, about how it’s broken pieces feed your mind’s lies that you are not worthy, not loved, not enough, and I wish I could take them away. I care about those memories that shattered your innocence and belief in the world and yourself, in the beauty of your dreams, and I wish I could erase them all.

I care about that moment your heart closed—when he abandoned you, when she said no, when the fist met your face, when they laughed at you, degraded you, insulted you, or simply did not notice you. And I wish, I so wish, I could have been there, to catch your fall. I care about the child you used to be, how the world wasn’t there for that kid.

How the world now judges you for the physical manifestation of those mental scars when what you really need, when all you ever needed, is/was love.

I wish I could apologize on behalf of everybody.

I care about your soul and essence, the million tiny beautiful and not-so-beautiful things that make up the story of your life and the masterpiece you are. I believe in you and your innocence. I believe in second chances, that the burn was not the end but simply a part of the necessary fire in the never-ending growth of your phoenix soul.

In short, stranger, I believe in You. I love You.

If there is one thing you must take from this it is this: there is at least one person in this world who doesn’t give damn whether you’re the most successful, beautiful, together person in the world or that the only thing you accomplished today was getting out of bed. Who doesn’t care what the world might think, or what you’ve done, how many mistakes you’ve made, how many you’ve hurt out of your own in pain.

She still believes in you. She still loves you. She believes in your light, your purity, always.

You are loved.

Understanding the “Privileged”

Another piece I wrote for The F-Word UK: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2014/07/understanding_the

Individual #1: Racial minority, woman brought up in a single-parent household with a deceased Dad, experienced financial hardship as a young child.

Individual #2: British citizen, well-educated, from a loving family, raised in some of the world’s safest areas, no physical impairments, middle-class upbringing.

It’s easy to identify which is the privileged one, yet they both describe the same person: me.

For a long time, I identified more with the first description. While aware of other types of privileges, the predominant in my mind was wealthy white male heterosexual privilege. Consequently, I was on the losing side.

That is, until I had a conversation with a white male heterosexual friend about race and gender. We discussed the concept of wealthy white male heterosexual privilege, which he found offensive.

I initially felt anger, but as he was my friend, I thought I’d calmly explain why he was wrong to feel offended. I elaborated by talking about how white male privilege adversely affected my life.

My friend listened compassionately, and seemed shocked.

“I’m so sorry to hear about that. I knew before that it’s hard to be a woman and an ethnic minority, and wasn’t trying to say it wasn’t, but I get it now. I am so sorry.”

I felt pride and asked if that helped him understand his privilege.

“Well, I still feel there’s something wrong I didn’t communicate well before. It’s more the way it’s often spoken about,” he replied. “I feel there’s this underlying assumption many have when they speak of the concept. Like that because I experience privilege as a white heterosexual man means I have the overall better life, when that’s not the case.”

He went on to talk about his past. He’d experienced tremendous poverty and abuse growing up. He felt he suffered from depression, but never asked for help due to the stigma he felt as a man he’d receive for it.

It was now my turn to feel shocked. All I’d known was his current situation – in which his family was wealthy – and the image he conveyed: tall, confident, and muscular.

It made me re-consider my belief that because I was less privileged in some ways, I had the worse life. While I lost my Dad at a young age, I lived a safe, stable middle-class upbringing. As a child, my supportive family and education-oriented culture taught me to value academics and family. My friend, on the other hand, suffered from neglect, experiencing brief stints at foster homes and street fighting.

It was like I’d created this mental hierarchy measuring people based on privilege, rich white men and women were further up, and thus had greater lives. When I realised I was more blessed in some ways than my friend, I saw how flawed that logic was. After all, I hadn’t had it easier than him in life overall just because I grew up with love. I’ve battled with emotional health issues, some actually indirectly a result of sexism, racism, and my socioeconomic background.

Yet I also asked for and received mental health treatment because I knew my family would help me. Reflecting on it deeper, I likely also benefited from the fact it’s societally more acceptable for a woman to ask for help than a man.

I realised what my friend was saying: just because you’ve the upper hand in one area of life doesn’t mean you’ve the happier life. Nobody’s immune from pain, no matter her or his gender, race, or wealth. After all, depression and suicide can affect anybody.

My heart softened. I learned an important lesson: if one wants real understanding between the sexes, or even non-white feminists and white feminists- we’ve got to respectfully talk and call somebody out on their privilege. The intention has to be to promote unity rather than separation, which is more likely to occur when one communicates as opposed to aggressively confronts.

In similar past situations, I’d get mad. Why should I “respectfully” educate and listen to him when I feel disrespected? It shouldn’t even be my responsibility as a non-white minority to teach him in the first place.

Yet because of structural racism, the average person isn’t taught about these concepts. I myself didn’t know about white male privilege until university. Is it really productive to get mad at him personally, taking out what is actually my anger at society, for being born into a world that didn’t teach either of us better earlier? Wouldn’t it be more productive to instead respectfully explain it to him and hear him out, given people usually listen when they feel heard?

It turned out it was. That day my privileged white male friend became an advocate for women and racial minorities’ rights, and I became a better human being.